Experts and professionals in various spheres of socio-political endeavours tell AFEEZ HANAFI the areas the Federal Government should focus on in 2019Interest, unemployment rates should be brought down– Prof. Leo Ukpong (A professor of Financial Economics and Dean, Faculty of Business Administration, University of Uyo)

We are already in 2019, which is an election year. There are three areas that whoever comes into government should focus on. One is employment. I think the unemployment rate is too high, especially among graduates, and that is a serious problem for the nation. To deal with that, economic policies should focus on what can create jobs, and that is manufacturing. The government should support manufacturing. In doing that, electricity must be stable. The cost of running a plant is too high. Our biggest problem in this country is that we are importing too many things. We have agriculture which is doing relatively fine. But our problem is processing; how to preserve food. That again is a function of manufacturing.

In terms of monetary policy, I think the interest rate is still too high. Maybe the Central Bank of Nigeria is afraid that inflation will go up if there is lower interest rate. The reality is that if people are unemployed and there is inflation, the government is not solving human problems. If there is inflation and there is high employment, it is better to deal with it because people are engaged. Right now, the interest rate to private sectors to borrow money to do business is way too high. The CBN should refocus on its fundamental objective which is to stabilise the economy. So, interest rate needs to go down to help investors put money into public investments.

Also, the government is borrowing too much. Both domestic and foreign debts are too high. While the debt is too high, what we are using it for is a source of concern. If we are using the debt to build capital projects that can produce taxable revenue that we can use to repay the debt, it is okay. But most of the debts are used for recurrent expenses, which can never generate revenue to repay them. In fact, what we are doing is mortgaging the future of our future generations.

Government should involve the private sector – Chief Bassey Edem (Former President, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture) 

The current government cannot do anything differently from what it has been doing. The government, as constituted, if it returns to power, will still continue to do what it is doing and it will continue to fail. What do they know about the economy? There is no economist in the economic team. Only government people are in the economic team and they don’t know their left from their right. There is no way the economy can move forward without carrying businesses along. I don’t really see any future for Nigeria if the present government returns (to power).

The government must involve the private sector in its policymaking decisions and not asking the private sector to act in advisory capacity. In the economic team, you must have key private sector leaders there because they know the problems. Most of them – ministers, permanent secretaries – who are in the economic team; what do they know about business? Nothing! They just make policies and nothing happens. If they want to involve the private sector, the President has to reshuffle his cabinet and let people from the private sector handle technical positions in the government.

2019 outlook will largely depend on oil and gas– Mr Muda Yusuf (Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

The Nigerian economy remaines fragile with the high dependence on oil sector for revenue and foreign exchange earnings. Although oil revenues increased with recovering oil prices in 2018, the impact on the economy was subdued by the huge foreign exchange commitments to petroleum product importations and the inherent subsidy.  The high debt service obligations were also major constraints to the growth of the economy.

With the limited progress in the ongoing effort to diversify government revenue sources, the performance of the oil and gas sector would remain a critical factor that would shape the outlook for the economy in 2019. According to estimates by Capital Economics analysts, every $10-per-barrel fall in oil prices will cause a 3-5 per cent decline of GDP in most of the Gulf economies, and a slowdown of 1.5-2 per cent of GDP in Russia and Nigeria on an annual basis.  The outlook will therefore depend to a large extent on developments in the oil and gas sector and the political will to undertake far reaching reforms, beginning with the oil and gas sector.

Given the challenging economic conditions, key policy reforms would be imperative to support and sustain macroeconomic stability. These include, among others, a foreign exchange management framework that reflects the market fundamentals, the acceleration of the economic diversification agenda, normalisation of Lagos ports environment, the oil and gas sector reform, especially the petroleum industry bill; reduction in the cost of governance at all levels; improvements in the domestic revenue (particularly independent revenue) to reduce volatilities of government revenues, among others.

There must be focus on infrastructure – Mr Mansur Ahmed (President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria)

For MAN, our call is that the government should focus on infrastructure. There should be continuing heavy investment in infrastructure. There should be heavy investment in power and transportation. The second area is agriculture. The policies being pursued in agriculture in the last three years have made a big impact. We are beginning to see developmental changes in agriculture. However, MAN is worried that there is significant reduction in the allocation for agriculture. In 2018, N118bn was allocated to agriculture, but this year, about N80bn was budgeted for the sector, which is more than 30 per cent reduction. We think that the effort in agriculture should be sustained, especially in terms of providing support to all sections of the agriculture value chain, particularly with regard to linking the production sector with the process in the manufacturing sector.

When you reduce investment in sectors like agriculture and infrastructure which affect manufacturing and SMEs (Small and medium-sized enterprises), clearly the impact on employment will be negative. We know that the government is doing some other things to improve employment, particularly through direct government intervention. But it is the private sector, particularly manufacturing, SMEs and agriculture that can make employment much more effective.  All the same, the efforts being made through government intervention to improve employment should be sustained.

Another area has to do with the monetary issue. So far, the exchange rate is being stabilised and that has helped in the manufacturing sector. We hope that there will be efforts to sustain favourable exchange rate.

Police must be impartial in handling political issues  – Mr Mike Ejiofor (Former Director, Department of State Services and Chairman Apex Safety and Security)

My expectation from the government is to conduct free, fair and credible elections. If that is not done and we have elections that are flawed, people are bound to protest. And that could lead to violence in view of the stakes between the two major political parties. To achieve this, government must give the Independent National Electoral Commission a free hand to conduct the elections. Security agencies, especially the police that are primarily responsible for internal security, must be non-partisan because they are paid with taxpayers’ money. If the police are seen to be partisan, as they are now, it will be unfortunate and it will remind us of what happened in 1983. I see a situation whereby the populace would rise against the police. So, the police must be very impartial in handling political issues.

The government should also equip the security agencies. The populace is of the view that the military and the police are ill-equipped to deal with the security challenges in the country. Boko Haram attacks are rampant and the reasons are very obvious. They are collaborating with the Islamic State in West Africa. Boko Haram has been internationalised. In addition, they do not believe in democracy. The attack they are carrying out is one against democracy by making sure that people don’t vote. They are becoming more daring, more coordinated and more sophisticated in their approach. The government must be up to the challenges. At the same time, we must also be careful, especially the media, so that we don’t escalate the situation through our reportage. The media should put national interest in their reportage though I agree that the situation is gloomy. We should know how to report the issue so that people don’t lose faith in the government.

As regards the herdsmen attacks which have arguably claimed more lives than Boko Haram attacks, government seems not to be taking the issue seriously. If the government has been deploying the military against a separatist group, I don’t see why they are deploying police to fight the armed herdsmen instead of the military. The worst of it all is that the attack is national. The government should look at what it can do to stop this menace. As far as I am concerned, they are not herdsmen; they are terrorists. They are an extension of Boko Haram that is trying to extend its frontier.

We need comprehensive reform in judiciary – Mr Monday Ubani (Former Vice President Nigerian Bar Association)

One of the things some of us have been clamouring for is the issue of quick dispensation of justice. Justice delayed is justice denied. We want cases to be managed in such a manner that will have early resolutions of legal disputes. Take for instance the appellate jurisdiction; before an appeal is slated for hearing at the Court of Appeal, sometimes it takes up to four or five years. And Supreme Court is a no-go area. It takes a minimum of eight years before a matter is slated for hearing. Where does that kind of thing operate and the people will make progress? Can’t the government decentralise the Supreme Court? Why must we have just one Supreme Court for the whole 36 states only in Abuja? At times it takes 10 years for you to get your case slated for hearing. There is no country that operates that way that can actually make a progress in their judicial sector. It is an issue and something has to be done about it. Can’t we even stop some of these cases that have been already decided at the Court of Appeal? The government should come up with a legislation that will not make all cases to be going to Supreme Court. That way, we will begin to see reforms in the judicial sector.

At the state level, we should have more judges who are competent and capable. Those that were in service are overwhelmed. At times, you have a judge taking up to 30 cases slated for hearing in a day. And we are still using the long-hand method of taking down proceedings. No technology has been deployed in the judicial sector. Also, there should be financial, structural and administrative autonomy. It is there in the constitution that the judiciary should be autonomous. But most state governments have not applied the law. However, there is some level of autonomy at the federal level. The judiciary must be free from the interference of the executive and legislative arms of government. There are issues with our judiciary. Most times, to enforce judgments is an issue.

There should be a creation of security apparatus within the judiciary that can enforce judgments. They don’t need to go to the Nigeria Police to enforce judgments. That is another way of enhancing the efficiency of the judicial arm. Going back to the executive (Nigeria Police) to get permission to enforce judgments can create an issue. For instance, imagine you want to enforce a judgment against the Nigeria Police when they are the ones to enforce it. How do you think they will help you?

I just came back from Kenya. Their judiciary is doing so well. It has gone far in terms of improvement on issues like quick dispensation of justice, financial autonomy, and basic infrastructure in the judiciary that clog our wheel of progress (in Nigeria). We should be able to carry out a comprehensive reform in the judiciary.

Human rights violations must stop – Mr Malachy Ugwummadu (National President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights)

Part of the expectation of Nigerians is to be assured that there is no end to governance, particularly now that we have gone full swing into the election year. The practice is to terminate governance and commence politics in the election year. We must not halt governance.

Having said that, the government should know that the entire Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is not suspended. The similar provisions of the constitution from Section 33-45 are replicated in Africa Charter of Human and People’s Right as well as other international instruments that deal with fundamental human rights, particularly the United Nations Declaration on Political and Civil Rights. Therefore, the government should desist from the routine of denying human rights violation just as they have done in the recent past with the Amnesty International report on extrajudicial killings.

The government must rise to the occasion; conduct a thorough investigation leveraging on the report of credible organisations with a view to stemming or putting an end to these human rights violations. The Attorney General of the Federation, under Section 174 of the constitution, can initiate proceeding in the protection of the rights of the citizens. And above all, the government must find a way to activate Sections 14-22b of the constitution which is to the effect that the primary purpose of the government is the protection of lives and properties. Therefore, on no account shall the lives of Nigerians be under siege again by the military, the police and any law enforcement agency.

Any established case of violation of the right of the electorate cannot be left unchallenged. The idea of arresting and detaining citizens of Nigeria for any political reason amounts to an abridgement of their right to fair hearing. It is also a violation of their rights to freedom of movement and personal liberty. So, political actors must not violate the rights of Nigerians. It is immaterial of whether such violations are coming during campaign or election period. We, in the civil society and human rights movement, are admonishing not only the government and law enforcement agencies, but also every other person or institution that is disposed towards infringing on the rights of Nigerians for political end.

Government must adequately fund education – Mr Usman Dutse (President, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics)

The government should give appropriate attention to education, which is the most important sector in the economy. The government should increase funding. There should be adequate funding to build the infrastructure in institutions, establish more institutions and ensure that standards are maintained. There should be an effective system so that education can perform significantly in improving economy and development.  So, we are expecting more attention of the government in the education sector.

If you look at the budgetary allocation, what is budgeted for education is not really encouraging. To a greater extent, many people believe that if education is adequately funded, things will be better in the sector. We hope that if the government can push close to 26 per cent allocation, at least, there will be improvement in the education sector. But where we are now is not encouraging. The government should do more work than talk. There should be more actions in the sector than just political statements. The present percentage allocated to education by the government is not even up to half of 26 per cent. Maybe if it is 20 per cent, things will be better.

More funds needed in health care  – Prof Mike Ogirima (Former President, Nigerian Medical Association)

Every Nigerian needs the National Health Insurance Scheme but the government is not providing enough funds for health care. Not everybody has the ability to contribute into the financing of health care. All over the world, it is the insurance that bails out people and ensures universal health coverage. If we don’t imbibe that culture in Nigeria, it will be a mirage for every Nigerian to have access to health care. So, health insurance is key in universal health coverage because it provides enough funds. Recently, the Nigerian Medical Association has been advocating that the treatment of cancer should be incorporated into the NHIS. There should be funding to make sure that our health care facilities are well equipped.

On the high number of Nigerian doctors relocating abroad, I will advise the government to ensure that those trained in the country are retained and capacity should be improved in training more health personnel. The existing capacity is not enough to cater for the number of people available for training every year. We have to improve on the existing capacity. However, no matter what is done, there will be constant flow of professionals from one place to another. We can’t stop that.

The government should encourage private entrepreneurs. If they invest heavily, they will help the industry. None of the government hospitals across the world handles all the referred patients (from another country). It is the private health care facilities that handle many cases. So, we should try and develop our private health care facilities too. Interestingly, some of our private health care facilities are setting up standard practice that can match that of their counterparts overseas. The government should encourage more. The more, the merrier and the cheaper the service will be.

Corruption fight must have no sacred cows – Mr Debo Adeniran (Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership)

The fight against corruption should be such that will leave no stone unturned. Government should be proactive and ensure that all the anti-corruption laws are fully implemented. Anybody, no matter how powerful or influential they are, should not be given any preferential treatment. Everybody should be treated as being equal before the law. There should be prompt prosecution of those who run afoul of the anti-corruption laws. Judiciary should be put under perpetual watch. Any judicial officer that is found to be aiding and abating corrupt people should be treated as accomplices.

Once corruption laws are strictly enforced, there will be drastic reduction in the commission of corruption crimes. And anybody found guilty of corrupt practices should not be spared. They should be made to face the full wrath of the law. Anybody involved in any corruption issue that is over N1bn should be made to serve life imprisonment. Every other culprit enmeshed in corruption matters not up to N1bn should be made to serve different jail terms. And they should be made to work full time behind the prison walls so that they will be productive and not just consuming food at the expense of the state. If they are accountants, they should practise behind the walls. If they don’t have any skills, they can be taught a skill that will make them useful to the society.

Punch              

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